I’ll call this, “Let’s Get Sued: A Refresher
Course.” Or, maybe I’ll just call it, “Let’s Get Stupid – Again.”
- Walk to dinning (sic)!
- Great elementary school!
- Fenced-in front yard allows children to play in a secure place.
- Quite (sic) Street.
- Good family home.
- You don’t have to live in an old house to have your children in the (Name of) Unified School District!
- Quiet neighborhood.
These are all real examples of property descriptions from current San Diego active Multiple Listing Service entries. And, again this week, I saw one of my favorites. In an advertisement placed by a local broker, a property was promoted as being located on “one of the most kid-friendly cul-de-sacs” in the community.
How many things are wrong with this statement? To many, this declaration seems benign enough. But, aside from the fact that the image evoked may alienate a potentially large segment of the buyer pool, namely those without children, a case could be made that this is a fair-housing violation, not to mention just plain dangerous.
HUD Fair Housing policies restrict the use of words in advertising which convey “overt or tacit discriminatory preferences or limitations.” Included are words conveying familial, racial, gender or religious status. Examples given of the former include “adults, singles, children and mature persons.”
Then, there is the issue of implication. Kid-friendly? If little Bobby is ever assaulted or hit by a car, or is even bullied by another “kid,” somebody could be find him or herself in a pile of legal doo-doo. If we are talking about “kids” as in “children,” and as opposed to baby goats, this language is particularly risky.
Agents need to walk on egg shells when it comes to selecting their words. Teresa Boardman posted an excellent article on this as it relates to verbal communication with our clients. No, we can’t answer questions like “Is this a good neighborhood?”, “Are the schools good?”, “Do a lot of children live on the street?”, or “Do any (insert race) people live in the area?” I have been on the receiving end of all of these queries and more.
Our company’s attorneys have gone so far as to say that we should steer clear of using terms like “Walking distance to…”, because not everyone can walk the same distance, or walk at all. Your home can be “near” dining opportunities, but it can’t be within “biking distance.” Obviously, phrases like “Close to Catholic Church” should be avoided, because the issue of religion has suddenly been introduced. Another common boo-boo is “His and Hers” closets, sinks, or gender-specific anything for that matter, which can be construed as exclusionary.
Drifting away from Fair Housing issues and into the arena of exposing yourself to liability in general, statement of fact is safe, such as “Award-winning schools!”, but once you start naming the schools, you are in risky territory, because attendance boundaries change. Giving a big shout-out to specific schools when marketing a home is highly inadvisable right now in Scripps Ranch, for instance, where boundary changes for the elementary schools will be taking place prior to the next school year. In Poway Unified School District, you may be within one school’s attendance boundaries but assigned to another due to over-enrollment. If a home buyer is banking on their child attending a particular school and the agent misrepresents the school assignment, someone is going to have some ‘splainin to do.
Pergo is a trade name for a laminate flooring product. All laminate floors are not Pergo. Chances are that representing a WilsonArt floor as Pergo will not result in a visit to the County Courthouse, but why risk it? You may not feel there is a difference, but the new owners might. You may consider a street “quiet,” but then you may not have heard the garage band jamming every Friday night.
I can’t leave this subject of agent advertising without revisiting the legal yet stupid things that are printed in the name of marketing a property for sale literally every day. No one is going to get sued over saying that your home has excellent “curve appeal,” by suggesting that a property will “compliment” a life-style, or for misspelling every third word. But as a seller paying a handsome fee for professional marketing and representation, you deserve better.
The agent is ultimately responsible for being aware of the laws, both of the government and of commonsense, when advertising your home for sale. As the seller, I will repeat my mantra that you should insist upon being shown copies of advertising placed on your behalf, including a copy of the Multiple Listing Service entry. Your agent is, after all, working for you. Their actions will reflect upon you and will have a direct effect on your marketing success as a well as your potential exposure to liability. Agents are human (most, anyway), and errors are unavoidable, but as the client, make us accountable.